How effective was Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on Sunday?
This effective: On an afternoon Vikes quarterback Christian Ponder appeared to be throwing the football with a mitten on his right hand, dynamic playmaker Percy Harvin was hobbling because of injuries to his right hamstring and left ankle, and the Minnesota defense failed to force a turnover, the visitors were still within one possession of tying the Seattle Seahawks midway through the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks held on to win, 30-20, and while their offense played crisply for the second consecutive week, and the defense gave up only a 55-yard field goal after halftime, CenturyLink fans should have applauded Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave as they walked off the field.
Their inexplicable reluctance to feed the ball to the NFL’s best running back had more to do with the Seahawks’ victory than anything their counterparts on the Seattle sideline did. Peterson finished with 182 yards on 17 carries, but after rushing for 144 yards in the first half, he ran only five more times.
“It was kind of a nightmare, to tell you the truth, in the first half,” Hawks coach Pete Carroll said of his team’s futile attempt to contain Peterson, who broke loose for a 74-yard run the second time he touched the ball. “The cool thing is that the guys settled down and put it to work, and Gus made his adjustments and we stopped them.”
Uh, who did what? No disrespect to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but the Seahawks and their bunched-up-in-the-box scheme never stopped Peterson. It was Peterson’s coaches who stopped Peterson.
Instead of realizing the 6-foot-1, 217-pound veteran is the Vikings’ bread and butter – their entire entree, for that matter – they were determined to show a more balanced offense. This meant asking second-year quarterback Ponder to do more than he could, and more than he should. Ponder ended up attempting 22 passes, half of which he completed, for a scant 63 yards. He was sacked four times and intercepted once. His longest completion – repeat, longest – was 14 yards.
Peterson averaged – repeat, averaged – 10.7 yards a carry, the second-highest yards-per-carry average of his 82-game NFL career. It would not be an overstatement to call Sunday a “career day” for the potential Pro Football Hall of Famer, and yet the Vikings relied less on Peterson’s explosive legs than Ponder’s scatter-shot arm.
Was Peterson 100 percent? He sat out practice Friday to nurse an ankle sprain that has been bothering him for the past month, so it’s fair to wonder if his diminished role in the second half coincided with his health.
Then again, he looked healthy as a horse – and just as fast – during the 74-yard run, when he cut back against the grain and then brushed off two tacklers with stiffarms.
If Peterson was upset about how the offense gradually was turned over to Ponder, he didn’t show it. He’s adept at going with the flow, on the field and off.
“I always want to run more, especially when I’m hot,” he said. “That’s just my mentality. But I can only go out and do my job and not worry about what the play call is. That’s all I can do.”
Frazier, the man who has the responsibility of overseeing Minnesota play calls, acknowledged “the great job” the Vikings are doing at running the ball, then added: “We need some balance. We as coaches need to figure out what we need to do to create that balance. I don’t think Christian is the problem.”
Christian isn’t a problem if all that’s asked of him is to take a snap under center and hand the ball off to Peterson, a workhorse who came into CenturyLink field averaging 21 carries a game. But he has carried the ball as many as 30 times. Peterson did that during his rookie season of 2007, when he piled up 296 rushing yards on the San Diego Chargers.
“Adrian Peterson is the guy that carries the load, and he’s a great back,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “We knew they were going to try to feed him the ball, and we made adjustments after halftime and they worked.”
Really? What adjustments were made after halftime? Peterson got five carries and picked up 38 yards – better than 7 yards a pop – only to find himself phased out of the gameplan in the fourth quarter.